The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, October 10, 2011


FAITH AND POLITICS: “The Theological and Political Errors of Pastor Jeffress.”

Just to be clear what we’re talking about: The Jeffress Standard is religious beliefs should trump competence when it comes to selecting a president (see this interview). This view is of course at odds with those of Martin Luther, who famously said he’d prefer to be ruled by a competent Turk over an incompetent Christian. And it’s also at odds with  Jeffress’ own claim, which is that he would support Mitt Romney (whom he considers to be a member of a cult) over President Obama (whom he concedes is a Christian). So Jeffress favors voting for an evangelical Christian over a “cult” member — but favors voting for a member of a “cult” over a Christian who happens to be politically liberal? Where exactly in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is this stance articulated? The answer is: Nowhere.

And…

There is in fact no sound reason to vote for a person based simply on their religious affiliation. Principles are obviously important in a candidate, and they may well be informed by religious faith. But the principles, not religious affiliations, are the things which have public relevance.

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RELATED: “This evangelical says Mormonism isn’t a cult.”

Cults do not engage in those kinds of self-examining conversations. If they do, they do not remain cults.

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ALSO RELATED: “Here we go again…the words ‘evangelical’ and ‘cult’ being misused in the media.”

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FIRST AMENDMENT WATCH: “Religious Liberty and the Ministerial Exception.”

If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government should not choose the officers of a church. But consider the following scenario: A local congregation runs a private, sectarian elementary school. The congregation considers some of its teachers to be “commissioned ministers” with religious vocations, and the authority to hire these teachers is given to the voting members of the church. After an internal dispute, the congregation votes to fire one of its teachers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission then files a complaint with a federal court, and the church is forced by the government to maintain on its payroll a minister whom it decided to fire.

This is precisely what is at stake in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, and its importance is heightened because it is an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court. Although slippery slope arguments are not always sound, it is easy to see what will happen if the ministerial exception is weakened or abandoned. Religious organizations will become increasingly subject to anti-discrimination laws having to do with a host of categories hitherto unimagined, and the underlying religious motivations for staffing decisions will be subject to judicial interpretation and review.

“It may not be easy,” Madison acknowledged nearly a half-century after the adoption of the First Amendment, “in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions & doubts on unessential points.” The decision to hire or fire clergy, however, is hardly an “unessential” point, and there should be no doubt that the First Amendment takes such decisions away from the civil authority.

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ABORTION IS NOT AN INTERNAL RIGHT: “The San Jose Articles.”

High U.N. officials routinely tell countries around the world there is an international right to abortion that governments must protect. Only a few weeks ago, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Health issued a report to the Secretary General that such a right exists under the “right to health.” The Secretary General endorsed the report. A few days later the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the same thing.

What they say is false. There is no such agreed upon right. No U.N. treaty mentions abortion. And the issue is so unsettled internationally that it could not have possibly achieved international legal status under common practice. Still, they maintain the falsehood.

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BLUEPRINT, SMORGASBORD, OR MAP? “How to Read the Bible.”

When examining how we interpret Scripture, we should pay attention to our functional theology of Scripture: how our use of Scripture reflects particular beliefs about what the Bible is. There are two common approaches to using Scripture today.

Some readers start with a detailed blueprint of what the Bible says, then read individual passages of Scripture as if they were the concrete building blocks to fit into the blueprint. They translate each passage into a set of propositions or principles that fit the established details of the blueprint. This approach assumes that we already know the larger meaning of Scripture; our system of theology gives us the meaning. Thus, the task of interpreting Scripture becomes a matter of discovering where in our theological system a particular passage fits.

Others prefer a smorgasbord approach. Imagine a huge cafeteria loaded with food of many kinds for many tastes; you are at the cafeteria with the members of a small-group Bible study. Can you imagine what some of the other members of the group would choose to eat? I suspect that there might even be patterns based on age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, but each person chooses which foods to feast on based on his or her appetite. In the smorgasbord approach to Scripture, the Bible becomes the answer book for our felt needs and personal perspectives.

With both the blueprint and smorgasbord approaches, we end up using Scripture for our own purposes. We are in control. The Bible may be viewed as authoritative, but it provides either confirmation of our preconceived ideas or divine advice for felt needs.

Blueprint readers rightly sense that one cannot read the Bible without bringing some understanding to the table; we each come with some theological assumptions about the Bible when we open its pages. Smorgasbord readers rightly believe that the Bible is a book through which God addresses us; it’s not just a book of ancient history or doctrine or worldview. A theological reading of Scripture makes use of both of these assumptions, yet in a deeper and fuller way.

Instead of providing a detailed blueprint, a theological reading brings a map for a journey. Our map does not give all the answers about a particular text. Instead, our reading sends us on a journey in which God in Scripture encounters us again and again, both with comforting signs of his presence and surprises that confound us, yet may open new vistas. Reading Scripture is not about solving puzzles but discerning a mystery. Through Scripture, we encounter no less than the mysterious triune God himself.

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BIOETHICS: “How should we as Christians respond to stem-cell research?”

The problem is not just the immoral destruction of the embryos from which stem cells are extracted. The larger cultural issue is an ethic of immortality that undergirds the push for embryonic stem-cell research. It’s an ethic that has already warped our culture’s perspective and now threatens to warp our Christian worldview, too.

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HEH: “Religion and Occupy Wall Street.”

I have no doubt that God is with the folks near Wall Street, but I doubt they’ve recognized Him yet.

NO DUH: “Faith vs. reason? That’s really dumb.”

Faith and reason can live happily together: It’s narrow-mindedness, by the faithful as well as by atheists, that leads to stupid thinking.

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY: “Every Day Implications of Christian Zionism in the lives of Christian and Muslim Palestinians.”

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THE OTHER, OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY: “Which Matters More? Vandalism Against Mosques or Synagogues?”

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MAYBE, MAYBE NOT: “Was Christopher Columbus on a religious crusade?”

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UH, NO. “Can ‘Star Trek’ resolve our national standoff? Spock, Kirk, Khan, and the common good.”

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TWEET YOUR PRESENCE: “Twitter Reaches Out to Christian Leaders at Catalyst’s ‘Be Present’ Conference.”

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FROM MY MAGAZINE: “I Am A Practical Theologian” by Earl G. Creps.

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